West Hall at Chestatee
When: 7:30 tonight
Where: War Eagle Stadium, Gainesville
Coaches: West Hall, Tony Lotti; Chestatee, Stan Luttrell
Records: West Hall (1-0); Chestatee (0-1)
Key players: Chestatee, TE/DL Khalil Cantrell (5-10, 260 Sr.); DE/TE Cody Humphries (6-3, 190 Sr.); QB Wyatt Burgess (5-11, 155 Sr.). West Hall, TE/DE Hunter Atkinson (6-6, 250 Sr.); RB/DL Antonio Pittman (5-9, 225 Sr.); QB Zach English (5-10, 180 Sr.).
West Hall football coach Tony Lotti has measured the success of his second year with the Spartans by how much the team has grown since he arrived in Oakwood a year ago.
He saw a small glimpse of it in West Hall’s 35-0 win over Johnson two weeks ago, and foresees a huge jump if the Spartans can rattle off another win tonight against Chestatee.
“We’re looking forward to going out there and seeing how much we’ve grown in a year,” Lotti said. “That was one of the things I was looking for in these (non-region) Class AAAA games. You have to learn how to win, and I think kids are doing that.”
The past few years, beating the War Eagles has been a rare feat for West Hall, which has lost five of the last six meetings. Chestatee has won the last two showdowns by a combined score of 83-35, including last year’s 42-21 victory.
Despite consistent success against West Hall, Chestatee head coach Stan Luttrell says he can see the improvement in the Spartans under Lotti.
“I was at the Johnson game and I got to see them play, and I think it’s just (a byproduct of) the second year under coach Lotti,” Luttrell said. “I thought their kids played with some confidence that was different from last year. I think they have a good group of players, a good coaching staff, and I think they are all going in the right direction. They’re a much-improved football team.”
Tonight’s game adds up to a perfect early-season test for Lotti’s Spartans, who can make a big statement about the progress of their program with a victory.
“It’s going to be a very difficult test for us,” Lotti said. “But we’ll see how much growth we are making.”
Should West Hall win, it will start the season 2-0 for the first time since 2010. Neither victories would help in the region standings, but with both opponents now in Class AAAA — and another in
Lumpkin County waiting next week — the Spartans are proving they can compete side-by-side with teams from larger schools.
After last week’s bye, they’re anxious to get back out on the field against someone other than their own teammates.
“The worry I have with playing a game, then having a week off is that you’re trying to build up some momentum and then you have to step back again,” Lotti said. “I’m a little worried about us being rusty, but the kids have been excited they’re looking forward to playing again.
“They got revved up, then they had to stop.”
Chestatee (0-1) hasn’t had to worry about potential slowdown in tempo, having opened its season last Friday against North Hall. The War Eagles lost 33-15, but remained within striking distance of the 2012 Class AAA state semifinalist Trojans in the fourth quarter with a 20-15 deficit before North Hall took over late with a pair of touchdowns.
Despite the loss, Luttrell said he was pleased with the War Eagles’ effort and believes if they can correct their mistakes, they can be a good team.
“We did an excellent job of playing hard,” Luttrell said. “There was no doubt about it that we made too many mistakes to beat a good football team. So we’ve been working on correcting those mistakes and building off the effort we played with the other night. We’ve really focused on playing our brand of football and limiting the mistakes.”
Chestatee’s performance against a very good North Hall team was enough of a show for Lotti to be certain his players have a battle in store for them tonight.
“Chestatee is very big and very strong,” Lotti said. “Even though they lost some people at some key positions, from what I’ve seen they’re better than they were a year ago.
After opening on the road last week, Chestatee returns home tonight, which might help the War Eagles limit their mistakes.
“It is always good playing at home,” Luttrell said. “We’ve worked very hard to creative an atmosphere and create traditions. We have a great community that supports our football program, so it is a great experience to play at home in our stadium.”
Lotti was most impressed with War Eagles quarterback Wyatt Burgess, who rushed for 64 yards on 15 carries last Friday, both game highs for Chestatee.
Lotti will look for the same defensive showing that held Johnson to just 108 yards of total offense, and kept the Knights out of West Hall territory until the fourth quarter.
The challenge will be greater for the Spartans tonight, with Chestatee utilizing a triple-option offense that threw off defenders for big rushing yards in 2012.
The War Eagles rushed for 233 yards last Friday against North Hall.
“You have to play disciplined football against them,” Lotti said. “As soon as you have one player not doing what he’s supposed to do, and he sees the ball and tries to follow the ball instead or making sure the backs and the quarterbacks are accounted for, that’s when they hurt you.”
On the other side of the ball, the Spartans hope for a repeat performance from quarterback Zach English and running back Antonio Pittman, both of whom scored a pair of touchdowns against Johnson.
English rushed for 64 yards and passed for another 62, while Pittman picked up 72 on the ground.
Defensively, Luttrell said the War Eagles will have to be great at tackling in order to slow down the Spartan attack.
“If we can do those two things, hopefully we will be able to contain that skill they have,” Luttrell said.
Ed Hooper contributed to this report.